Thursday, April 15, 1999

Lesley Stahl: a pit bull in fancy shoes




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lesley Stahl might have been kidding, but I don't think so. She seemed genuinely surprised. She must get kinder, gentler mail than the rest of us.

        The former CBS White House reporter and current 60 Minutes correspondent was in town Monday, the fourth lecturer in The Cincinnati Enquirer's “Unique Lives and Experiences” series. After her remarks, members of the audience lined up at microphones to ask questions.

        A young man started out with a compliment about Ms. Stahl's new book, Reporting Live. He said he had read it, “so I expected you would be funny and interesting.” But — and he hemmed and hawed a little bit — he asked her whether she is surprised when she hears her reputation is not what she expected.

        “Tough?” she said.

        “Well, not even a nice person,” he replied.

        “Oh. I didn't know people thought that,” she said. “I'm glad we had this little chat.”

The gender card
        Now — and Lord knows I try not to play the gender card unless it is absolutely unavoidable — do you suppose that young man would have translated “tough” into “not even a nice person” if he'd been talking to Mike Wallace.

        Or Peter Jennings. Or Dan Rather. Or Morley Safer. Or — well, you get my point.

        TV Guide once said of her, “She's first and foremost a watchdog with perhaps a streak of pit bull somewhere in her ancestry.”

        And does it matter that the pit bull always insisted on wearing open-toed Bruno Magli shoes, even when she was tromping around a barnyard on one of President Reagan's photo ops?

        Or that she did stand-ups in blizzards and rainstorms without apparently ever having a bad hair day?

        She would put the prime minister of England on hold if her daughter was on the other line. Or if her husband of 22 years needed her.

        Can we notice all this — that never once did she try to hide the fact that she is a card-carrying woman — without noticing that the story was the important thing? She chased the news and the newsmakers with ferocious intensity. She was, after all, reporting on people who were running countries and spending our money.

An honorary man
        After having distinguished herself as a reporter for more than 25 years, covering four presidents while hosting Face the Nation on weekends, word leaked that producer Don Hewitt was considering her for a 60 Minutes job.

        The New York Times reported that Mr. Hewitt was filling the position with “an honorary man.” The Washington Times said “she won't arrive smelling of sour milk and peanut butter.”

        I guess they thought that was a compliment.

        David Brinkley told her early in her career, “You're a pretty blonde. You should stay in New York and have fun.” Instead, she wore her glasses and “worked around the clock.”

        Lesley Stahl's family, her blond hair and her open-toed shoes never got in the way of a story. She is tough. Successful. But is she nice?

        As I watched Lesley Stahl fielding the question from the man in the audience, I had one of my own:

        Young man, why do you care?

        She is a reporter who is famous for not taking any cheap shortcuts. She has resisted bullying from Yasser Arafat and Margaret Thatcher. She has a reputation for fairness and honesty. She's a reporter who has not thus far been sucked into the celebrity vortex.

        You are being asked to believe what she tells you. You are not being asked to take her to the prom.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

       



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